Is Clicker Training the Best Choice for Your Pet?

The desire to have a well-behaved pet, is one the of the main reasons that people decide to try clicker training with their animal. It is unpleasant for everyone when pets dig through trash, bark insanely at everyone outside of the family, and harass friends by jumping on them when they come to visit. Good behavior brings harmony in the home and builds a strong relationship between the owner and the pet. Bad behavior… what can I say, it is miserable.

People sometimes believe that you have to be professionally trained to be a good clicker trainer. Not so! If your goal is to train your own pet at home, you can certainly learn enough to be effective if you want to. The first step is to study and understand the basic theory and be aware of best practices that will help you be successful..

How Is Clicker Training Different From Traditional Training?

Clicker training is based on operant conditioning, which helps the animal learn preferred behavior (target actions) through positive reinforcement. It only requires a few minutes per session, and focuses on having fun with your pet during the entire time.

Traditional training is based on classical conditioning and uses aversive control. Clicker training relies on verbal corrections that separate target behaviors from non-target behaviors. Scolding and other punishments are NOT encouraged, and use of sticks to punish your animal is not acceptable.

When an animal is trained with this method, behaviors are taught in small pieces, rather than forcing the animal to understand and perform the entire action all at once. The small pieces can be practiced over and over. As each step in a series of steps is learned the dog moves closer to completing the target action. Each small step that is done correctly is met instantly with a “click” followed by a treat. As a result, the animal enjoys the process of learning and, in fact, wants to take the steps that are rewarded.

Helpful Hints:

1. Learn to provide timely clicks. It is imperative that you click during the action, not after the action. The timeliness of the click helps the animal develop an association between the click and the action, Then, the treat must be given immediately after the click. Always have a bag of treats so your pet can be rewarded immediately. The entire cycle – action with click, followed by reward – should be smooth and quick.

All of this takes some coordination. In fact, you may want to practice clicking and providing a reward without your pet. For example, every time a person on TV takes a particular action, such as running – click and drop a reward in a cup or on the floor. Practicing this way will build your confidence, raise your awareness, and strengthen your reflexes.

2. Do not rush the learning process. Create a consistent five- to ten-second cycle. If your pet gets it in less than five seconds, wait a few seconds before starting the next cycle. Try sessions of up to 20 consistent repetitions – but, STOP if it is no longer fun for your pet. Each animal has its own unique learning pace.

3.Have your clicker with you at all times. Be prepared to click and reward at any point when he performs a target action. There are some inexpensive clickers connected to stretch wrist bands that are good for this purpose. If you can’t carry the treats or you are caught without them, at least give your pet praise whenever target actions are performed.

Troubleshooting Tips:

There will be times when your pet will not respond to the signals. If you run into this, don’t worry! It happens to the best. The problem is almost certainly with the method and not with your animal. Most healthy animals are willing to learn and respond phenomenally to operant conditioning. If you have this problem, below are a few troubleshooting steps that may help:

1. Evaluate what is happening. Be sure that your pet has made a strong association between the click and the action. If not, repeat the initializing/loading procedure so the dog will associate the click with treats.

2. Check the Environment. Did you move the location of your training? If you did, your pet may be too excited to pay attention. Let him explore for a few minutes to get comfortable and settle down, then restart the training.

3. Does your pet really like the treats you are using? If the animal responds in a ho-hum manner with little interest in the reward, you may need to change it to something that will make him perk up. When you find something that the animal really likes, the desire to perform will be consistent.

Obviously, this has been a brief overview of the method. If you decide to move forward, be sure to spend more time learning exactly how it all works.There are great resources online, through Amazon, and at the public library.

Clicker training is a great choice and well worth investigating.

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